According to ancient Greek legends, the Sphinx was a creature with the body of a lion, the head of a woman, the wings of an eagle, and the tail of a serpent. She perched high up on a rocky cliff alongside the road leading to the city of Thebes, asking a riddle of anyone who dared come near her. When they could not answer the riddle, she killed and ate them.
The people of Thebes wanted very much for someone to destroy the Sphinx, but there was no one who could answer the riddle. "If only someone could defeat the Sphinx," the people proclaimed, "we would make him king of our city!" Finally, a wandering stranger came to Thebes. His name was Oedipus. He was a bold and fearless man, and he was also very clever. When he heard about this challenge, he decided that he would visit the Sphinx and test his luck.
When the Sphinx saw Oedipus approaching, she shrieked, "Halt, human, and answer my riddle!" Oedipus said nothing in reply, waiting for her to continue. "What creature has one voice," the Sphinx then asked, "but walks on four feet in the morning, on two feet in the afternoon, and on three feet in the evening?"
At first, Oedipus was baffled, but then he saw through the tricky words of the riddle. "Man is the answer!" he replied. "He crawls on all fours when he is a baby, then he walks on two feet when he grows up, and finally he uses a cane as his third foot in his old age." When she heard the correct answer, the Sphinx screamed in outrage and leaped from her high rock, plunging to her death in the sea below. Rejoicing, the people of Thebes proclaimed Oedipus as their new king.